“The Romanov Cross” (Bantam Hardcover, $26) by Robert Masello is a medical thriller, historical novel and ghost-story all in one. It was definitely hard to put down.
A fishing boat off the northern coast of Alaska salvages a coffin from the water. Inside is a man's body, in mummy-like condition, wearing an old, Russian-style cross, embedded with emeralds. The boat wrecks on the rocks of St. Peter's island. Harley, the captain, makes it to shore floating on the lid of the coffin, which is engraved with a strange design. He has the cross in his pocket.
After being court-martialed, Army epidemiologist Frank Slater finds his punishment mysteriously lifted. He has been assigned to travel to a small island off the coast of Alaska and investigate a potentially lethal situation.
The permafrost has begun to melt, exposing bodies from a colony of settlers that was wiped out by the Spanish flu in 1918. Slater has to make sure that the thawed bodies don't contain the deadly virus.
Slater and his team arrive on the island to exhume the bodies. They learn that the colony was settled by a group devoted to the mad Russian monk Rasputin. They left Russia when the czar was overthrown and made their home on the rock-covered, inhospitable island.
The crew sets up equipment and prepares to exhume and examine a body from the colony's cemetery. Meanwhile, Harley and his buddies plan a massive grave robbery, unaware that they are being exposed to a deadly disease.
With the help of a young Inuit woman, Slater must keep the flu virus contained. What he doesn't take into account is the secret that the island will reveal.
The story revisits the rise of Rasputin, the downfall of the Romanov family and the mystery surrounding the fate of Anastasia. The supernatural twist makes it a fascinating read.
— Betty Lytle